Inhaled corticosteroids (ICS) are now first-line therapy for persistent asthma in children. The major safety concerns of long-term ICS therapy for childhood asthma are potential effects on adrenal function, growth, and bone mass. Dosage, type of inhaler device, and individual drug characteristics influence systemic effects of ICS. Sensitive measures of basal adrenal function can show statistically significant changes during ICS therapy, but these do not accurately predict clinically meaningful adrenal axis suppression. Adrenal insufficiency is rare and confined to children receiving high doses of ICS. Dose-related inhibition of growth has been seen in some short- and intermediate-term studies, but long-term studies have found no detrimental effect on final height. ICS therapy has not been associated with significant changes in measurements of bone and bone biomarkers, but more studies of high doses and of therapy in adolescents are needed. Overall, although ICS are the most effective anti-inflammatory treatment available for asthma, high doses of ICS in children are still of concern. The risk of high doses is compounded in children with concomitant allergic conditions that require multiple forms of topical corticosteroids. Benefits of ICS clearly outweigh potential adverse effects and risks associated with poorly controlled asthma. Risk can be minimized by using the lowest effective ICS dose, limiting systemic availability of the drug through proper technique to minimize swallowed drug, and selection of agents with efficient first-path hepatic inactivation of swallowed drug. Adjuvant treatments can reduce the dose of ICS required for asthma control, allowing a reduction in overall systemic exposure for most children with mild-to-moderate persistent asthma. Therefore, these agents should be added to, but should not replace, ICS therapy.
Copyright 2002 Wiley-Liss, Inc.